‘Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare’ Review And Recap: What Happened In The Challenger Foundation?

The Netflix documentary Hell Camp: Teenage Nightmare introduces us to an American teenage behavioral camp led by a former special forces officer, Steve Cartisano. Steve Cartisano’s “wilderness camp” was later recognized as a “hell camp,” which became a nightmare for the teenagers enrolled in it. While the parents of these teenagers believed that only in this discipline camp would their children learn a life lesson, they had no idea that their children would be subjected to physical and mental abuse. However, a tragic incident surfaced when one of the kids in the camp died from extreme torture, which eventually led to Steve Cartisano’s downfall.

Spoilers Ahead


What Happened In The Challenger Foundation?

In 1988, Steve Cartisano, a former military special forces officer, founded a children’s wilderness camp, The Challenger Foundation, in southern Utah. Steve and his colleagues (one of them was Lance “Horsehair’ Jaggar, seen in the documentary) advertised their camp, gaining the attention of many worried parents who didn’t have any means to get their children back on track. During the 1980s, many American teenagers became addicted to drugs, and their lives took a dark turn, which was a grave concern for their parents. Having no other option left, the parents of these teenagers sought the help of wilderness therapy, believing that it would be the best decision for their children’s mental growth and maturity in life. One of the former members of the camp, Nadine, shared her story about how her mother, who didn’t like her at all because of her rebellious nature, paid the foundation $1600 to have her daughter enrolled. Nadine’s story suggested that the camp was probably not affordable for everyone, so only the wealthy and upper-middle-class families were the ones who used to send their kids to this camp, hoping for a change in their children’s behavior.

After the parents signed their approval, the field directors of the foundation would kidnap the kids in the middle of the night and take them to the camp in Utah. According to the instructions, the teenagers would go hiking and complete several other challenging tasks, like hunting and cooking meat. The children were supposed to answer the field instructors by saying “yes, sir.” They were not allowed to say “sorry”; instead, they would say “I apologize.” If there was any kind of misconduct, the children who’d be denied a meal, while the children who excelled in the tasks were rewarded with cinnamon and raisins. Initially, the camp was slowly becoming home to those children who finally began to realize the importance of sticking together as a family, but gradually the rules and regulations of the camp became heavy on them. The teens were strictly instructed to continue hiking even if they fell ill or had a severe headache. Many of the former members of the foundation, like Nadine, Kinney, Matthew, and many more, appeared in this documentary to share their harrowing experiences in the camp. While some of them were brutally beaten by the field instructors, others were sexually harassed by the head members of the foundation, including Steve.

In the year 1990, the tragic death of a teenage boy named Kristen Chase finally put end to Steve Cartisano’s Challenger Foundation. Over the course of an entire day of hiking, Kristen fell sick and had a severe headache. Still, the instructors asked her to continue walking, which eventually worsened her condition, causing her to fall to the ground and die. The rest of the team, including Steve, immediately hurried to the location and tried to resuscitate her, but she was already gone. Even though Steve was not physically present during the hike as an instructor, her death raised the topic of negligence in the camp. Kristen’s autopsy revealed that she died due to the exertion and heat, but deep down, everyone knew that it was the case of pure negligence by the instructors that had taken her life.

Steve Cartisano and his foundation were both charged with negligence in the homicide of Kristen Chase. Steve continued to deny his involvement in the case, calling it a mere accident; however, later, after his trial, he was acquitted of the charges and set free. But both he and his foundation faced several lawsuits that finally caused them to declare bankruptcy.


What Happened To Steve Cartisano?

After The Challenger Foundation was shut down for good, everyone, including Steve’s wife, Debbie, thought that her husband would probably never go back to the same profession, but she was wrong. Steve no longer had any permission to continue wilderness therapy in Utah, so later in Hawaii, he founded another wilderness camp, which was subsequently banned once again. Steve seemed to have no intention to stop, as he once again came up with other wilderness camps in Puerto Rico, where the parents initially paid a substantial bill to enroll their children for the betterment of their future, but it turned out to be a disappointment. In those wilderness camps outside Utah, children were once again sexually and mentally abused by the instructors.

Steve’s wife, Debbie, who had four children, worried about her husband’s well-being. Simultaneously, her kids grew up and became drug addicts, which is an ironic tragedy in the life story of Steve Cartisano. However, in 2019, Steve Cartisano took his last breath, but to date, the wilderness camps continue to exist, led by different individuals much like Cartisano. The sexual abuse of the teenagers and the torture inflicted upon them are still major concerns about these camps.

In September 2020, reality TV presenter Paris Hilton bravely talked about her tragic past in one of those behavioral camps in Utah. She talked about how she had been sexually harassed and physically harmed by those instructors in the camp when she was only 17 years old. Paris Hilton’s statement caused a stir and made people aware, especially the parents who believed their kids would be treated well in the discipline camps. Being a celebrity and a renowned public figure, it was easy for Paris Hilton to make her statement, but for a lot of other people who had also suffered the same harassment, it was tough to step forward and tell their stories in front of the public. Thanks to the Netflix documentary Hell Camp: Teenage Nightmare, people like Nadine, Kinney, and Matthew are able to step in to share their tragic experience in that wilderness camp that has almost ruined their teenage, leaving them with some unforgettable bad memories to deal with for the rest of their lives.


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Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda hails from a medical background, yet her journey is to cross the boundaries of medicine and survive in the cinematic world. The surrealistic beauty of cinema and art has attracted her from a very young age. She loves to write poems, songs, and stories, but her dream is to write films someday. She has also worked as a painter, but nothing attracts her more than cinema. Through her writings, she wants to explore the world of cinema more and more and take her readers on the same ride.

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